"Some days are better than others," I used to joke wryly with Lee when one of us was having a particularly rough day. And it is true that some days are marginally better or worse than others. But then there are those days that are incomparable--they are off the charts. They're not merely better--they're in a completely different league. They are days perfect in blue skies, days where everything falls into place, days when you know that right now, this moment. I will never ever forget. That day, June 9, 2008 was one such day for the 4Runners.
Who are the 4Runners you ask? Well, the name is relatively new--we came up with it on that storied final day--but our little running group has been around since. . .well, I don't really remember exactly when. Sometime last fall, I guess. To be honest, I can't recall when we started running or even why. The four of us--Mai Rhea "Mai" Odiyar, Judith "Jude Eddards" Edwards, Jessica "Lee" Lee and me--just sort of fell into this regular habit of running. It seems like one day I woke up and it was a normal part of our lives--rising at 5:00 A.M. to run from the predawn darkness into the light of a new day. The Beach Pathway (followed by a dip in the lukewarm sea), the Little Loop (fighting the dogs that barked and snarled and nipped at our heels the whole way. Good times.), the Medium Loop, and very rarely The Big Loop (a serious five mile stretch that includes one very long hill). By Thanksgiving it was a given that we would run the Turkey Trot, which we did. We knew we would eventually run Suicide Cliff, and we did. Our running eventually expanded to include other vigorous activities--the tank swim, scuba diving, and even rock climbing--but running was always the core. The standard question was always: "So, are we running tomorrow?" Sometimes the answer was no; sometimes it wasn't very much fun. Many times, there would be at least one of us missing on those morning runs--someone too tired or too sick or too busy (in which case that person would still be getting up at five, but to work, not to run). But more often than not, the answer was yes, and we ran. We ran quiet--this was not a social hour masquerading as exercise; this was serious--ipods plugged in, breathing steady, legs churning at a simple, steady pace. Sometimes we ran together--especially if there were only two of us--but we were just as likely to run together but alone--Judith, driven and fast somewhere in the far distance, Lee walking slow and running fast--I secretly believe she was the hardest-core runner of us all, Mai, running like she lives, steady, dependable, not given to extremes, and almost always smiling at the end; and me, learning to swallow my pride, finding my pace, and occasionally bounding ahead on the wave a great song on my ipod. And so we ran. Until we ran out of time.
Our day began at 3:30 A.M. We had decided we would squeeze as much out of our last day together as we possibly could and that necessitated an early start. So while Veronyka and Adrian waited bleary-eyed to board their flight back to The World; while normal people went home to bed to catch a few hours of sleep before heading off to work, we 4Runners began our day in a flurry of activity. Well, three of us did anyway. When we got back to the compound from the airport, Mai settled herself in the back of Rusty the pickup truck and promptly fell asleep. The plan had been for us to drive out to Banzai Cliff and hang out under the stars, waiting for the sun to rise and then to run up Suicide Cliff once again. But the plan had also been to surprise Mai with a new Ipod Shuffle as going-away present from all of us--an ipod already filled with songs Judith, Jess, and I had contributed that would remind her of us whenever she went running. That plan was running into some difficulty--Judith and Jess were having trouble getting their songs onto the Shuffle. So we spend the next hour darting furtively between their house and mine trying to get the songs loaded, all the while dreading Mai's impatience at our delayed departure. Fortunately for us, she slept hard and never awoke to fret.
By 4:30 A.M. the songs were loaded at last and we were on the road to Marpi. Judith hopped in the truck bed with Mai, curled up in the way that only Judith can (nobody curls up quite like Jude!) and fell asleep as well. Her sleep deficit was greater than all of ours; she hadn't slept at all in the past 20 hours. Jessica rode in the cab with me, nodding in and out of sleep while she listened to our ipod. And so I drove in quiet contemplation, while my amigas dozed and the sky gradually paled in the east.
Mai and Jude knocked out in the back of the pickup truck.
We arrived at Banzai just after 5:00 A.M.--the light was growing but the sun was still below the horizon. Jess and I jumped into the truck bed as well now; Mai and Jude continued to sleep and Lee continued to fight sleep, so while they slumbered I watched as the sun began to burn against the horizon and finally came spilling over its edge bringing with it a new day--our day.
A Beautiful Day at Born at Banzai
Eventually, with dawn broken all around us and flowing over the memorials to the war dead and the walls of Suicide Cliff behind us, the girls woke up. It was time for breakfast--what I termed the "Runner's Breakfast"--"Extra Strength" Red Bull and Fri Chick straight from the can. Oh and also one bad orange, shared among us. This dangerous mix of non-FDA approved chemicals manufactured in Thailand (this was not standard Red Bull. It came in suspicious brown bottles and Mai is convinced that one of the ingredients was hydrocholric acid), un-juicy fruit, and good Adventist protein might more accurately be termed the "Breakfast of Those Who Wake Up at 2 A.M., Watch the Sunrise, then Plan to Run to the Top of Suicide Cliff and Then Stay Awake for the Next 24 Hours."
After knocking back our protein-caffeine-fiber breakfast we headed down to explore the area surrounding Banzai Cliff before returning to the truck to prepare for our run.
It was here that all our stress from earlier that morning paid off when we surprised Mai with her new ipod. She was so thrilled! I haven't enjoyed giving a gift so much in a long time--she was so completely surprised and so genuinely greatful. I couldn't have been happier if it had been me getting the gift.
So now with all of us, including Mai, plugged in and ready to run, and it was time to challenge the cliff once again. The run was actually easier for me this time than it was the first time. Mai set a strong steady pace and fueled by the Red Bull and the "ipod effect" (that extra jolt of energy you get when a great song comes up), which she was experiencing for the first time, she pulled out in front and ran all way, arriving first at the top. The rest of us followed and within about 40 minutes of the time we started we were all there. Appropriately, the song "Beautiful Day" came on my ipod just as I arrived at the edge of Suicide Cliff and looked down on the green of the island below, the shining sea stretching away in the distance, and the brilliant blue sky above. It was a beautiful day indeed, and there was no chance of us letting it get away.
(This caption should read with an Australian accent): Time for a Runners Breakfast of Fri-Chick and Red BULL! Good on ya, mates!
We took a short walk along Banzai Cliff to a place where we could turn around and see the rough coastline in all it's morning glory.
After catching our breath, we began the long descent back to the bottom. Lee and Jude decided to run back down, but Mai and I walked and it was perfect. The sun was shining, the breeze was gentle and refreshing, and the island spread panoramic below us-a million shades of green, dusted by brilliant red-orange from the groves of flame trees in bloom. We walked slowly drinking it all in, and enjoying the conversation and the simple pleasure of each other's company. We both knew that we would not share such a walk, such a conversation, such a day for a very long time, and rather than mourn the passing of the moment, we chose to rejoice in it's presence; to fully embrace it, experience it and log it away in our memories.
As we neared the base of the cliff, Judith and Jessica roared up in Rusty. I took the wheel, Mai joined me in the cab, while the other two rode in the back, and at just after 8:00 o clock in the morning we were off on our next adventure.
First, we drove down to Cowtown. Mai hadn't been back there since she was a little girl visiting Saipan. We parked Rusty by the BMX tracks and walked down to watch the waves come crashing in. Out there you feel as if you're on the very northern tip of Saipan. The waves are always majestic here, a blue and white foamy, icy dessert rolling and crashing dramatically against the rocks in a wall of spray. We soaked up the sun, grooved to our ipods. There were no deep conversations that I remember, but there was such as strong sense of camraderie among the four of us, a heightened sense of closeness and comfort. We knew the end was coming, and we were willing ourselves to hold on tight, so that when the terrific force of time and distance and change and life would threaten to yank us apart we wouldn't lose our grip on one another.
After Cowtown it was on to San Juan Beach over on the eastern side of the island. Mai had never been there, and since it fell off Sabbath's agenda, we wanted to make sure she saw it before we left. We went down to the beach, waded in the shallows, marked the place for safekeeping in our memories.
The Waves at Cowtown. Babs loves to come out here just to watch these beauties.
Unfortunately there were no pics of the run itself. I already had my hands full with my cell phone and water bottle and ipod so the camera stayed in the car. Also, the camera was full anyway so the remaining few pictures you see here, I got from Mai. No pictures of the tank swim either as our cameras are not waterproof. Most of the pictures of this day reside in our memories.
Spectacular spray at San Juan Beach
It was now just after 10 A.M. and our day was already full, but we weren't done yet. We headed back to the house, threw on our bathing suits, and were on the road again, this time to the Pierson's house where we picked up the kayak for "two-birds-with-one-stone" sea kayaking/final tank swim adventure. Some of us swam and some of us kayaked out to the first tank, where, for old times sake, we climbed out and sat on the tank's rusted shoulders, looking back on Saipan and talking. Then we all piled into the kayak and paddled out to the second tank for some more sitting and looking and talking. Finally, Judith and I swam back while Jess and Mai paddled, and the girls exited the waters of Saipan for the last time.
It was now one in the afternoon and the day wasn't even half over yet. We went home, showered up, and then went over to Java Joes to do laundry.
And suddenly, without warning, it was over. Our run together was at an end; the 4Runners had reached their finale. Oh, there was still more to do, but the languid pace quickened, the memory-making mood--for me at least--evaporated. There were things to do; people to see. I realized, with a growing sadness, that our time was past. And I wasn't ready. I wanted to say more-though I didn't have any words. I wanted to do more--though it seemed we'd done it all. I wanted more time--more everyday, "so are we running tomorrow" time. But the time was gone. Just like that.
A crowd of us went to dinner at the Grotto restaurant--Mark & Tammy-- our generous, adventerous diving friends, Carol and her kids, Ken & Crystal, Amy, JohnMo, Babs and me and of course the three of the 4Runners. It was fun, a jovial and warm evening, but like Tori Amos once sang, "I could feel the distanc getting close" and I was filled with a growing sadness. After the meal, I, along with Amy and John and some of the students kept watch with them while they rushed to pack anywhere from two years to nine months of memories and "stuff " into bags that had to be kept under fifty pounds. There was so much they had to leave behind; even part of their hearts, swollen so large with love for this place, would have to be left behind along with diving fins, and clothes, and morning runs.
Soon enough and far too soon, it was 2:00 A.M.--a full 24 hours since the day had begun. Bags were packed in to the CRV and in Rusty's bed, lights were turned off, doors locked, engines started, and a train of vehicles left the compound headed for the airport. The run was over.
When I remember the day of the last run of the 4Runners, this is what I will always see in my memory. Blue skies, blazing flame trees, a perfect day. We've had a string of gorgeous days since Mai, Jude, and Jess left and looking up at those skies always makes me a little sad. I miss you guys! But, don't worry. Come tomorrow, I'll be running up Suicide Cliff again. It's what you do when you run-- put one foot in front of the other, and keep going!